MEMORIES FOR A LIFETIME
A&M seniors soak it in--and step it up--in
Aggies' home finale victory over Mississippi State
by Chandler Smith
For the last time ever, the Texas A&M football team “beat the hell” out of its opponent on the historic and hallowed grounds of a pre-redeveloped Kyle Field.
The seniors, in what would be their final game in front of the ever-supportive 12th Man, responded valiantly in a 51-41 victory over SEC foe Mississippi State.
- Toney Hurd Jr.
The game, though a struggle to put away late, was an emotional one for Aggie coaches, players, students and former students alike. The players and coaches understood the magnitude of the moment, a milestone that would conveniently stand the test of time as Texas A&M’s 700th win in its storied history.
Kyle Field as currently known will change forever, and the Aggies – especially the seniors – went out in style.
“At the beginning of the day I was just excited to get out there and see the fans and the 12th Man one last time,” running back Ben Malena said. “At the end of the game, it was bittersweet. The most important thing is that we got out of there with a ‘W’ and that we have two more games coming up.”
Malena would tack on one of many touchdowns in a prolific day of offense and senior productivity. Alongside Malena’s rushing attack, wide receivers Travis Labhart and Derel Walker each delivered their fair share of crucial blows and made game-changing plays when they were needed most.
Labhart continued his steady dose of contributions with 102 yards receiving and a pair of scores, including a 33-yard catch at the tail-end of the first quarter and – perhaps more importantly – an 11-yard snag to give the Aggies an additional seven points before the half.
Walker would aid in setting up the end-of-the-half touchdown with a sensational 41-yard catch along the sideline. He would also be an outlet for a scrambling Johnny Manziel in the third quarter as the wunderkind quarterback hit the receiver on a clutch third-down conversion after spinning away from two defenders. Walker would finish with 78 yards on four catches.
Labhart, who has capitalized on meaningful opportunities since receiving a starting role, said the victory will always stick in his memory.
“It was something I’ll remember forever,” senior wide receiver Travis Labhart said. “As soon as we got on the bus from the hotel I just really started thinking about the ride over there because we take it for granted. The Spirit Walk was just outstanding. The whole process of game day was great but when you get out there on the field you want to perform at your best and luckily I was able to do that today.”
- Kevin Sumlin
And as seniors lit up the scoreboard on offense, so too did senior defenders make their presence known on the opposite side of the ball.
Linebacker Steven Jenkins and safety Tony Hurd Jr. led the way for the Texas A&M defense, topping the team chart in tackles with 11 and nine, respectively. Hurd was particularly effective in space, making six solo tackles including one tackle-for-loss and a sack.
Hurd said the magnitude of the event only hit as he ran into the stadium for the final time.
“It was great,” Hurd said. “From the beginning of the day I had so many emotions. It actually didn’t hit me until I came out and they announced my name. It’s a great moment to be able to play in front of that crowd.”
At 88,500 strong, the third-largest crowd in school history, Kyle Field provided an electric environment for the stadium’s final huzzah. The end-game scene was particularly memorable, with mesmerizing pyrotechnics following an emotional Aggie War Hymn sung by players and fans immersed in pure ecstasy.
Head coach Kevin Sumlin would reiterate the views of his players, espousing the importance of the win to the program but – most importantly for the moment – the seniors.
“A great setting tonight, and everybody was a part of history,” Sumlin said. “It’s a growth process, but for our guys to be a part of that was a big deal and for our seniors it was a long-lasting memory. It was really important to our team that our seniors left today with some good feelings and good memories that they can have for a lifetime.”